The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) organised a joint e-Learning course on “Trade, Food Security and Nutrition” in May and June 2018 for representatives from government and related authorities involved in the formulation and implementation of agricultural policies and programmes in Central Europe and Asia.

The four-week course aimed to strengthen capacities to develop and implement evidence-based trade policies and to formulate and negotiate trade agreements taking into consideration both the needs for economic growth and structural transformation as well as food security and nutrition concerns. The relationship between trade and food security is attracting increased attention on both the trade and development agendas, including in the 2030 Agenda. The challenge is how to ensure that the expansion of agricultural trade works for and not against the Sustainable Development Goals. This challenge has been at the forefront of the negotiations on the changes to the current global agreements on agricultural trade to enhance food security.

The course attracted much interest, with 301 applications received, of which 77 applicants were selected to take part including 49 women. The criteria for selection focused on the role the participants might play in formulating trade policy after the course, and the impact that they would be able to have. 75 participants completed the course (97 percent completion rate), following four objective assessments and active participation in weekly discussion forums.

For this story, we conducted a survey amongst participants one year after completion to determine how the course may have changed their professional lives. The survey results are enriched by stories collected during in-depth interviews with three participants using the most significant change approach.

Amongst the participants to the survey, 80 percent enrolled in the course to grow in their current job, while 20 percent aimed for a career change. All but one respondent confirmed applying skills and knowledge learned in the course to their professional life over the past year. The on-the-job application proved to be more important amongst participants that enrolled to grow in their current job and than amongst academics.

For participants the importance of on-the-job application and confidence were important drivers to apply the new knowledge and skills.

Overall, 86 percent of learners strongly agreed or agreed that they shared new knowledge and skills over the past year (Figure 1). The personal stories below confirm this eagerness to spread the new knowledge; all three interviewees talked passionately about how they shared and about their eagerness to continue sharing their new knowledge. Both participants for whom the on-the-job application is very important to their job success (88 percent) and participants working for academia perform better on sharing learnings (100 percent) and calling attention to raise awareness (90 percent). Government officials changed more their perspective (88 percent) and the way they do certain aspects of their job (75 percent).